Software optimize

10 things you can do to keep Outlook running smoothly

A little housekeeping, some configuration tweaks, and a few best practices will prevent problems and keep Outlook humming.

A little housekeeping, some configuration tweaks, and a few best practices will prevent problems and keep Outlook humming.


Many of the client crises I fight as an IT consultant involve Microsoft Outlook. Occasionally, issues arise due to hardware failure, such as a hard disk going bad, but most Outlook errors are self-induced. Here are 10 steps to follow to keep Outlook running smoothly.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Don't click on attachments

It should go without saying, but I still encounter clients every month who infect their machines and cripple Outlook (and other applications) because they absentmindedly click on executable files and other attachments received in email messages. One of the best defenses against email borne viruses and infections is to simply avoid clicking on attachments or hyperlinks received within email messages.

2: Empty the trash

Outlook stores messages, including large attachments, in one file (typically known as the Personal Folders File, which uses a .pst file extension, or Offline Folder, which uses an .ost file extension). That storage file includes the Deleted Items folder. When users fail to empty the Deleted Items folder, deleted email continues contributing to gargantuan mailbox sizes. Regularly empty the Deleted Items folder.

Better yet, configure Outlook to automatically empty Deleted Items when exiting the email application. To do so, click Tools, select Options, click the Other tab, select Empty The Deleted Items Folder Upon Exiting, and click OK.

3: Archive mail

Microsoft set default mailbox quotas at two gigabytes in Exchange 2007, which is actually larger than prior platforms. That said, I regularly encounter clients whose Outlook.PST files or Exchange mailboxes exceed five and even six gigabytes. That's a recipe for reduced performance, if not data corruption and disaster (lost information).

Outlook performs optimally when using smaller information stores. Regularly archive mail by clicking File and selecting Archive. Or configure auto-archiving by clicking Tools, selecting Options, clicking the Other tab, and clicking the AutoArchive button to configure appropriate settings. This will create separate, standalone archive files and maintain reasonably sized mailboxes.

4: Minimize add-ins

Incompatibilities introduced by third-party search tools, security applications, and other software frequently cause trouble within Outlook. Worse, these add-ins are often difficult to track down and isolate as the cause of intermittent Outlook errors. Minimize the use of third-party add-ins to encourage better Outlook performance. To manage your add-ins, choose Options from the Tools menu, click the Other tab, click Advanced Options, and then click Add-In Manager. In Outlook 2007, click Tools, select Trust Center, and highlight Add-ins.

5: Avoid large attachments

Whenever large attachments are sent via email, there's a risk that the recipient's email server (or even the sender's server) will refuse to process the message. Messages with attachments larger than five megabytes are often discarded by many email servers. Avoid including attachments, especially those larger than three megabytes. Remember, when messages with attachments are sent, the attached files remain within the Sent Items folder, thereby contributing to larger database stores. Send too many file attachments, and the Sent Items folder alone can quickly grow to an unwieldy size.

6: Abandon stationery

Stationery, or the pretty templates Microsoft includes within Outlook to make messages appear more attractive, only complicates an already complex communications medium. Simplify the process be removing unnecessary graphic elements, which place a processing load upon recipients as well (unless they use text-based email readers, in which case they'll never even see your stationery anyway).

7: Eliminate third-party spam software

I've seen Outlook become so corrupted by third-party spam applications that the only solution was to uninstall the third-party email filtering software, uninstall Microsoft Office, and reinstall the Microsoft suite. Save yourself the hassle. Leverage Microsoft Exchange and Outlook's built-in junk mail filtering tools or turn to a trusted external spam solution, such as that offered by Postini.

8: Perform mailbox maintenance

Occasionally, Outlook's storage file becomes corrupt. Microsoft includes the Inbox Repair Tool with each copy of Outlook. The utility analyzes the mailbox storage file for errors. Scan.pst and Scan.ost (for Personal Folder files and Offline Folder files, respectively) can identify and correct issues with data and directory structures, headers and lost folders, and lost items. Users should consider running the file monthly, if for no other reason than it offers the option of creating a backup file as part of the repair process.

9: Trim/forward multiple accounts

Most users process just one or two email accounts within Microsoft Outlook. Others manage eight to 10 separate email accounts. That means that every time Outlook performs a send/receive operation (and many users configure their machines to perform this operation once a minute), Outlook must initiate and complete communications with 20 servers (10 outgoing servers and 10 incoming servers for each user account). That's a lot of network traffic, especially if most of the email accounts aren't necessary.

Reconsider how many email accounts are really required. If several legacy email accounts are still set up in Outlook but are no longer used, remove them. Choose E-Mail Accounts from the Tools menu, select View Or Change Existing E-mail Accounts, click Next, and then select and remove the obsolete account. In Outlook 2007, click Tools, select Account Settings, highlight the unnecessary account, and click the Remove button.

Alternatively, if multiple email accounts are required, consider whether there's an opportunity to consolidate several using Gmail. Users can create free Gmail accounts and forward several email accounts to a single holding account. For example, if a user receives email for info@ companyname.com, support@ companyname.com, serverstatus@ companyname.com, sales@ companyname.com, customerservice@companyname.com and similar addresses for the same domain, all those separate email accounts could be consolidated by pointing them to a single email address (such as administrative@companyname.com).

10: Simplify signatures

Logos, badges, business cards, and other fancy graphics are unnecessary within email messages. They may display improperly within recipient's email clients, or they may not display at all. Worse, graphical signatures lead to unnecessarily bloated email message sizes.

Stick to fundamentals. Configure Outlook to paste your name, title, company name, and contact information within every message. (Select Tools, choose Options, click the Mail Format tab, and click the Signatures button to access signature settings.) Just do so using simple text. Such contact information is critical and should accompany each email message you send (whether you're creating a new message or responding to another). But don't clutter messages, mailboxes, and server queues with unnecessary graphics and other superfluous elements.


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About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

36 comments
richmond
richmond

5. Sending Large Attachments - Good point! I tried sending several photo attachments to my wife's computer, and the e-mail has been stuck in the Outbox now for several weeks. I guess it was to large to process. How do I get it unstuck?

deICERAY
deICERAY

Very personalized tips; very IT related and not very user-oriented; more how to make IT's life better than how to make your email more powerful, more presentable, and more personalized. Clean and mean versus robust and rich - I choose the latter, because I don't have to CLEAN SERVERS!

mirossmac2
mirossmac2

A lot of my home emails come from family members, who attach interesting photos, docs, or pdfs. I save many of them but then I want to keep the email shorn of those attachments. Or *all* attachments. But how? And can I do it restrospectively on emails in the .pst file?

pa3bgr
pa3bgr

The author apparently uses Outlook 2003. The add-ins in Outlook 2007 can be found under Tools-Trust Center-Add-ins instead.

info
info

What a dumb article! Is THIS what passes as useful information on TechRepublic now?!

teaching50
teaching50

I agree with most of the information. However, on the attachments, there are times when one needs to open it because it is a document of importance. Thanks for sharing.

Marc Erickson
Marc Erickson

I have found SpamBayes to be very good and not cause problems. It's available for Outlook 2000/2003/2007, Outlook Express, Windows Live Mail, and support is being added for IncrediMail, Thunderbird, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, MSN Hotmail, and AOL Mail.

mr.lee
mr.lee

Where is the Inbox File Repair program and how do you run It?

vsane
vsane

Nice to know things which we forget so easily over a period. Very essential knowhow.

lars.staurset
lars.staurset

I tried step #8 of curiosity. The Vista UI froze while Outlook 2007 was contacting the server, and I had to reboot. My advice: Don't do unnecessary repairs. If you really have to, then save all your work and close other apps first.

drzaius
drzaius

What kind of a thing is that to say? You might as well say "Don't use email" Probably a third of my email traffic has attachments.

Lovs2look
Lovs2look

Since when does the IT dept. hold user's emails on a server? It is actually ON THE USER'S PC. So it is ONLY relevant to the user...not the IT dept. Yes it makes IT's life better 'cause if all users followed these practices, then we wouldn't have to come and visit YOUR PC and clean up YOUR mess(es). Again, if these tips were followed by the user then it would make the user's email experience so much better too..."clean and mean" runs much smoother with less hassles and errors than "robust and rich" in every one of my experiences. You are the user...it is your email account. If you want it to work (and work well) then good practices and a little maintenance is required now and again. "because I don't have to CLEAN SERVERS!" well with an attitude like that I wonder how long you'll have to wait for IT to come to your aid when your email account doesn't work as expected. I hope it's a looooong time.

TrueDinosaur
TrueDinosaur

Open message. Right click on attachment. Dropdown should have a remove option. Left click it. Close message box and you will be told message has changed. Say Yes to save changes.

spendrift1
spendrift1

I found the add-ins under Trust Center in 2007, and there are several that I don't need, being a home user. How do you disable or uninstall these add-ins? The article doesn't tell just how to get rid of them!

Ohsolost
Ohsolost

and had some useful information. For example, I did not know about the inbox repair tool. Seeing as how my inbox has to be rebuilt at least 3x a week (Outlook claims it was not shut down properly when it *was*) I will be executing it this evening!

pa3bgr
pa3bgr

Given the otherresponses, I would be tempted to say yes. sorry :-)

Marc Erickson
Marc Erickson

"C:\Program Files\Common Files\System\MSMAPI\1033\SCANPST.EXE"

TrueDinosaur
TrueDinosaur

Vista Business 64, Office 2007 File location: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office2007\Office12

Bill@.gov
Bill@.gov

On my XP system it was automatically installed in the C:\Program Files\Common Files\System\MSMAPI\1033 folder.

philk949
philk949

I can't find the Inbox Repair Tool either. A little help? Phil

zgozvrm
zgozvrm

you delete it, and use a different email client!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Proper security practice is to save the attachment as a file, then scan it for malware. You can probably skip these steps if someone on your corporate network is filtering attachments as they come in. I wouldn't skip over them at home or using a consumer-grade e-mail service. But it's your computer, not mine.

liz7
liz7

Outlook was SOOOOO slow switching bet. programs (Alt F4) - about 40 secs. Now back to normal!! Did all the cleanouts you recommended: incl. deleting a useless add in.

mirossmac2
mirossmac2

Unfortunately Remove, Cut, and Paste always come up grayed out in my Outlook2003 running in XP Sp3.

Marc Erickson
Marc Erickson

C:\Program Files\Common Files\System\MSMAPI\1033\SCANPST.EXE Whoops - still half asleep.

pa3bgr
pa3bgr

Also Vista x64, Office 2007, I have a different location: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office12 use scanost.exe for Exchange mailboxes and scanpst.exe for "regular" mailboxes.

brandy.colmer
brandy.colmer

Most of these issues are not even an issue in Gmail's web client, which is so.much.better.

VTVagabond
VTVagabond

This is the kind of advise that should have been in the original post. Not don't do it!

kevaburg
kevaburg

was how it was described in the post and I think he is absolutely right. How many people click simply because there is a link there? The problem lies in the fact that because an attachment exists, some people simply don't think before they click on it to download it. Your advice is spot on: download it as a file prior to execution, scan it, open it.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

Most AV software should either detect maleware when the message is retrieved or if you try to open [Outlook after all does save the first first to the hard disk before opening]. Of course if you are in a corporate environment, if the mail server doesn't incorporate any filtering software as mail comes in, the IT manager is incompitent.

mirossmac2
mirossmac2

And I thank you from the bottom of my hard drive!

Ohsolost
Ohsolost

...and that you are not looking at it in the viewing pane. Cut and paste will still be disabled but remove should be enabled.

darpoke
darpoke

to enterprise use, but for a home or SOHO environment, Apple's Mail client is very stable. For one thing, rather than mashing all your mail into an unwieldy gelatinous database, it stores each message as a separate file, organised in folders by mailbox. This makes it far more transparent to manage, even without launching the client - so you can SSH in remotely and manage a mailbox if necessary.

dkoch
dkoch

My biggest challenge is execs who insist they need admin rights to their laptops then develop a terminal case of click-itis. Our old CEO couldn't understand why he kept getting infections and he couldn't grasp the concept of not clicking on every hyperlink in a piece of e-mail. After rebuilding his machine twice in 6 months I refused to allow him admin rights - problem solved.

DNSB
DNSB

By the time, an attachment from an outside source makes it to my computers, it's been scanned multiple times (malware and spam filtering). Still possible for a piece of malware to squirm through though I am more worried about some of the suits with laptops carting the infestation in via sneakernet. That has happened a couple of times and been a real pain to fix while trying not to scream at the CEO that he has all the computer skills of a zombie badger.